Mothers In Jazz (44): Roxy Coss

Mothers In Jazz” is a new series, started by vocalist Nicky Schrire. The initiative aims to create an online resource for working jazz musicians with children, those contemplating parenthood, and jazz industry figures who work with and hire musicians who are parents. The insight of the musicians interviewed for this series provides valuable emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. “Mothers In Jazz” shines a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician

Roxy Coss is a Grammy Award-Winning musician, composer, educator and activist. She has become one of the most unique and innovative saxophonists on the scene, winning the 2022 Downbeat Critics’ Poll “Rising Star” category in Soprano Saxophone. Roxy has performed and recorded as a side musician with jazz greats including Clark Terry, Houston Person, Bill Charlap, and Nate Smith, and bands such as Darcy James Argue’s “Secret Society”, the Mingus Big Band, Birdland Big Band, and Steven Feifke’s Big Band. She is the Co-Artistic Director of the Brubeck Jazz Summit, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Jazz Education Network (JEN). Roxy’s commitment to jazz education extends far beyond her position as a Jazz Faculty member at The Juilliard School. She is also the Founder and President of Women In Jazz Organization, a collective of over 500 professional jazz musicians and composers who identify as women or gender non-binary. WIJO intends to help level the playing field, so that women and non-binary people have equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to the jazz community, leading to an improved and more rich, diverse, and successful art form. Roxy lives in the USA with her husband, saxophonist Lucas Pino, and their nearly 2-year old daughter.

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Roxy Coss. Photo credit: Desmond White

LondonJazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career?

Roxy Coss: I don’t think there’s any advice I’ve received that helped prepare me for the juggling act of being a mother and a musician. There’s an idea that my husband reminds me about that is the most helpful thing that I’ve received in terms of advice: “She (our daughter) won’t be this little forever.” This helps keep things in perspective, especially as time goes by, I realize that each stage is so fleeting and temporary. So, however I may feel in the moment about “work” stacking up, I know that this present moment will only last for a small amount of time. I have to soak up the time I have with my daughter while she is little, because they grow and change so quickly in the beginning!

LJN: What information or advice do you wish you’d received but didn’t (and had to learn through trial and error or on the go)?

RC: It DOES actually get easier…People say “it doesn’t get easier, it just changes.” But for mothers who deliver their child, and choose to breastfeed, you are physically giving yourself to this baby for the first chunk of time. Having your physical body back makes things easier on a base level, not to mention when you can start sleeping more normally again.

Also, I wish I knew to actually take more time off when my daughter was first born. Being a musician, we have this idea that music is the most important thing in the world, and we don’t realize how much of our lives is spent working towards our goals. I realized quickly that music will always be there when I choose to return to it, and that in the scheme of life, music is actually not that important compared to raising a tiny human. But, to be engaged in work and being a musician takes your entire being, it takes all of your time and energy. When you first have a kid, you don’t have that type of time and energy to give, and it can feel frustrating, and feel like you are failing, when you can’t give yourself fully anymore. But, all of that comes back, a little later, once your child becomes more independent, especially if you have a good support system – if you so choose to re engage in the music/career life.

LJN: Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:

RC: Ask for help. Having a strong and broad support system is so important. It can feel isolating to have a child, but all mothers have gone through this change when they first had kids! Seek each other out and ask for what you need, including from your “employers”. Prioritize yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your child and you definitely won’t be able to create music.

LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/gigging/touring:

RC: Invest in a good stroller – don’t be tempted like I was to get a hand-me-down in this area. You will use it every time you travel. Something that folds down easily and has a massive storage bin below. It doesn’t have to necessarily be the smallest stroller. You can gate-check it, so use it as a baby carrier and luggage cart :). Also, travel with a baby carrier so you can strap them on to board the airplane, especially if you have an instrument to carry on. If you can get a car seat that snaps into the stroller, even better. You can gate check both, then you have a car seat with you at all times. Ask for a crib in every place you stay. You don’t need as many toys as you think. The kid will be entertained by the travel and the new places you visit, the people you are meeting and performing with/for.

LJN: Best general travel//gig/tour-with-child advice:

RC: Don’t worry about the “supposed to”. Your child will grow leaps and bounds in different ways than they do at home, when you travel. They may have a sleep regression triggered by time zone changes, but perhaps they learn a new set of words, or start crawling for the first time. They will adapt, and their unique experience is valuable, too. Also, BRING HELP!

LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?

RC: Becoming a parent gave me a new understanding and perspective on life and priorities. While some work experiences have proven unnecessary (aka unmanageable and/or unbearable) since having a kid, some gigs have been that much more special to me, because I realize their importance and can appreciate the value they offer on a new level. I still feel just as deeply connected, if not more so, to the activities that really mean something to me – the ones that are in line with my values and bigger goals for myself in life. The other activities, the ones that aren’t so important or meaningful, are more easy to weed out, and by necessity, because I can’t “do it all” so I’ve had to figure out what to say no to, but it’s easier to decide now.

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz (could be related to travel/touring, riders, personal parameters, child care decisions, etc.)?

RC: My rate has gone up! I factor in childcare costs and my new commute since moving to a more child-friendly location, when deciding whether a gig pays “enough” or not. Sometimes I realize I would LOSE money if I said yes, so it makes it easy to say no. I also ask myself the question, will I regret leaving my daughter at home to participate in this activity, or will I be reinvigorated by experiencing this?

Roxy’s latest album Disparate Parts was released March 2022 on the Outside In Music label. It features her working band, the Roxy Coss Quintet, playing a suite of music composed by Coss, and two additional original compositions of Roxy’s, as well as originals from the other band members.

LINKS: Artist website

The complete archive of Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz series

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